You are the Space Jockey, pilot of an attack saucer which is positioned on the left side of the screen and can move up and down. From the right side of the screen, a barrage of tanks, jet planes, prop planes and helicopters will fire upon and try to crash into your ship. Your job is to shoot or dodge them. In addition to the aforementioned enemies, houses, balloons and trees litter the screen. These three types of obstacles don't fire, but they are deadly to the touch and can be destroyed.
There are 16 game variations in all, but they are all very similar. In some of the variations, your ship can move in all directions instead of just up and down along the left side of the screen. Also, the enemies move in different patterns, and the bullets can be shot diagonally instead of just in a horizontal line. In each of the 16 games, your ship and its bullets move from left to right over a landscape of rolling hills.
You begin Space Jockey with three ships, and you get an additional ship for every 1,000 points you score.